If you are undergoing any type of chemo treatment, you are a real-world superhero! Your cancer journey may be one of the toughest things you’ve ever been through, and we salute you for your courage. One of the best ways to support yourself as you begin treatments is through a nutrient-dense chemo diet. We want to make sure you have up-to-date information for planning your diet during chemo.
When you begin chemotherapy, many of your daily routines will change. One of the anticipated changes will be in your eating and dietary habits. Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are decreased appetite and nausea. This can interfere with the way you usually eat, so you may need to plan ahead and choose your foods more intentionally to make sure you’re getting all of the proper nutrients. In this article, we want to give you our best tips and tricks for creating a cancer-fighting diet, as well as helpful resources you can turn to during your healing process.
Creating Your Chemo Diet And Nutrition Plan
Your highest priority when starting a chemo diet is to get enough nutrients and calorie-dense foods. Your body needs adequate fuel to get you through treatment and keep your energy levels up. Since many patients experience nausea and low appetite during their treatment, eating enough calories can become quite a chore. Because of this, we suggest having nutrient-dense appetizing snacks easily available so that when you feel like eating, you have foods you like close by!
Tips For Increasing Calorie Intake During Chemo
When even the foods you love seem unappetizing, how can you get enough calories? Here are a few tips for getting enough food even when you are experiencing side effects such as nausea and discomfort:
- Keep calorie-dense snacks on hand at all times
- Drink your calories: try a high-quality protein supplement
- Eat 5-6 small meals each day versus larger meals
- If prescribed, use anti-nausea meds before you plan to eat
- Make some simple, tasty soups and store them in the fridge
- Freeze fruit and bananas to blend into smoothies
- Eat what you can tolerate- any calories are better than no calories during chemo
Priority Foods To Improve Healing And Stamina
When your appetite is increased, focus on consuming lots of healing foods and supplements. And don’t be afraid to indulge in some goodies! You and your body are working overtime during chemotherapy, and a little treat every once in a while is a great way to reward yourself.
Here are some nutrients you should try to include at each meal:
Protein will play many important roles in your healing journey. Your body needs a variety of proteins for rebuilding cells and tissues that may be damaged due to the cancer or intensity of treatment. Protein is important for growth, keeping your immune system strong, and energy production.
During and after your chemotherapy treatments, it’s especially important to choose a protein that your body can easily absorb and use, like hydrolyzed collagen protein. This is because your body’s normal functions have been comprised, and difficult-to-digest foods may just tax your body more. However, with a fast-absorbing protein, you’ll reserve your energy levels, fill your body with nutrients and be ready to facilitate healing!
Some good sources of protein to include in your chemo diet include:
Dehydration and low fiber intake are common during chemotherapy. Combined with being less active due to feeling unwell, and you’re likely to experience some constipation. Increasing your fiber intake will help improve your digestion, ease constipation, support healthy cholesterol levels, and keep your digestive system in good shape.
In your diet during chemo, try to include one of the following in each of your meals to increase fiber intake:
- Vegetables (steamed, raw, baked)
- Fruit (dried or fresh)
- Bran cereal
- Whole grain bread or crackers
- Leafy greens
It is important to include some high-quality fats in your chemo diet. Your body is working hard to fight off the cancer, and healthy fats will help to prevent malnourishment and excessive weight loss. The daily recommendation for fat intake is about 20-30% of your calories. Protein-dense foods like meats and dairy already contain some fat. If you are eating lean meats or not much fat in your meal, consider adding a small amount of the following:
- Olive oil (unheated)
- Nut butter
- Nuts and seeds
If possible, avoid deep-fried foods and fast foods. These contain a lot of trans fats that are not beneficial to your body.
Plant-Based Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytochemicals
Strive to include fruits, vegetables, or leafy greens at every meal in your chemo diet. These are full of potent micronutrients that will support every system in your body. When your appetite is low, stick to whatever sits well in your stomach. Cooking vegetables until they are soft or putting them in soup may make it easier to keep them down. When your appetite is up, include a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Raw fruit makes a great energy-dense snack.
Chemo Diet For Common Side Effects
Chemotherapy will affect every person differently. Depending on what type of chemo you’re receiving, the type of cancer you have, as well as your health and stamina before treatment, you may or may not experience some of the following side effects:
Mouth and Throat Sores
Some people develop sores in their mouth and throat after receiving chemotherapy. This can make it difficult to swallow and chew. If you get mouth sores, or if your throat is simply in pain, it is still important to eat.
- Use a straw to drink shakes, smoothies, and pureed soups
- Cold drinks may feel better than warm
- Avoid hot drinks that may burn and irritate the sores
- Avoid spices and seasonings
- Take over-the-counter or prescribed pain meds 20-30 minutes before eating
- Suck on ice chips to combat dryness and hydrate
- Use a very soft-bristled toothbrush
- Fill your freezer with low sugar frozen yogurts, ice creams, and other deserts
- Melt honey in warm tea to soothe and coat your throat
- Take a supplement that promotes wound healing such as ProT Gold Liquid Collagen
Nausea and Vomiting
As stated above, nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy. If you find that your nausea becomes severe enough that you cannot keep anything down, work with your medical provider to find some anti-nausea meds or ask if you can increase the dose of what you’re currently taking. Always work closely with a medical professional when deciding what drugs to use, and let them know what over-the-counter medications you are taking. Some herbs can interfere with pharmaceuticals and vice versa.
To combat nausea and increase calorie intake, try the following strategies:
- Sip fluids frequently
- Try teas with ginger and/or mint
- Carbonation can help soothe an upset stomach
- Try combining sprite with juice
- Add powdered electrolytes to your beverages
- Diffuse peppermint or ginger essential oil in your home
- Use cool compresses on your neck and forehead
- Avoid too much screen time (can make nausea worse)
- Keep simple snacks close by such as crackers and bread
Some types of chemotherapy may increase constipation or make you have diarrhea. Strong pain medications can also slow down the digestive tract. To combat constipation, try adding more servings of fiber to each meal. This can be as simple as adding more vegetables, beans, or whole grain. A high-quality probiotic supplement or a probiotic-rich food can also help to get the digestive tract functioning normally.
If you have diarrhea, talk with your medical professional. They can prescribe medication that may help. A probiotic supplement can also be useful. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluid, with an emphasis on electrolyte-rich drinks.
Strengthen Your Immune System With A Cancer-Fighting Diet
Your immune system is going to take a hit during cancer treatment. Many of the medications they give you to fight the cancer will also take a toll on your healthy cells that fight off infection. There are some cancer-fighting foods you can include in your diet that will support your immune system, help to reduce inflammation and provide powerful nutrients to your cells and organs. Although these foods don’t directly fight off cancer, they support and power your body through the cancer journey. By incorporating these foods and nutrients into your chemo diet, you can support your body in staying well.
- Vitamin A (orange fruits and veggies)
- Zinc (lean meats, seeds, nuts)
- Vitamin C
It is also important that you follow all of the guidelines from your healthcare provider geared towards keeping you healthy. Some of these guidelines may include staying away from large crowds, not allowing sick visitors into your home, wearing a mask when you’re out in public, washing your hands frequently, not eating at restaurants, avoiding uncooked foods, etc.
Working With Your Healthcare Team
When you are being treated for cancer, it’s important that you form a close relationship with your healthcare team. They can help to make your experience as comfortable and smooth as possible. Try to be open and honest with them about your thoughts and feelings. Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions and call them when you need during the treatment process. You can always ask for second opinions or move to another medical office if you’re not comfortable with the one you’re in.
Most doctors can also refer you to a dietary specialist who can help you specifically with your diet during chemo.
Best Resources for Women Undergoing Chemo
When you’re going through something as difficult as cancer, it is important to feel that you are not alone. Women can gain strength and hope by connecting with one another. It is also important to have reputable sources from which to get information regarding cancer and treatment.
Chemo Care has a comprehensive list of support groups, education, counseling, cancer-specific websites, and more. Visit their resource webpage to find additional resources that may be helpful to you on your journey.